A report released by the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute at UC-Berkeley Law School today recommends that expansion of the controversial Secure Communities program be halted until ICE overhauls the program. Started in 2008, Secure Communities automatically shares the fingerprints of anyone booked in county jails with the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE then has the option of asking local authorities to hold an individual they suspect of being in the country illegally, with the idea that agents then have the option of picking the person up and transferring them to federal custody. The stated purpose of the program is to further a new national approach to immigration enforcement–one focused less on the average undocumented immigrant and more on deporting those who commit crimes.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Secure Communities began in 2008, and has since rolled out to 1,300 local jurisdictions nationwide, with plans to be operating in every local community by 2013. The program sends fingerprints of those arrested by local police to a Homeland Security database, where they’re matched against immigration records. If the database recognizes the fingerprints as belonging to a person who may be in the country illegally, ICE has the option to place a hold on that person in the county jail, preventing their release. Then ICE has 48 hours to pick that person up from local custody and transfer them into the deportation system.
In another blow to the Obama administration’s attempt to gain nationwide acceptance for the immigration program Secure Communities, the state of New York pulled out of the program today. Governor Andrew Cuomo explained his reasoning in a press release: “‘There are concerns about the implementation of the program as well as its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York,’ Governor Cuomo said. ‘As a result, New York is suspending its participation in the program.’”
Similarly, Illinois terminated its participation in the program in May, and San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey announced last month that he’ll review immigrants pegged by the program to make sure they’re actually serious criminals. Additionally, the California Assembly passed the TRUST Act last week, which, if it clears the Senate and the governor, will allow counties to opt out of participation in Secure Communities.
On any given day, about 33,000 people are in detention in the US for suspected immigration violations. Increasingly, detaining these individuals is the domain of private prisons. According to a report by the Detention Watch Network, a little less than half of immigration violation suspects are in private facilities. Texas, a general hub for private prisons, has the most immigrants in private custody. (California ranks somewhere in the middle.) According to federal records obtained by the Detention Watch, private prison operators spent $20,432,000 on lobbying federal officials and lawmakers between 1999-2009.
For about two years, San Francisco has been in a back-and-forth with Immigration and Customs Enforcement about Secure Communities, a controversial finger-print sharing program that’s resulted in the deportation of thousands of undocumented immigrants. The program is part of the Obama administration’s efforts to focus immigration enforcement on those undocumented immigrants who commit crimes–a strategy that pundits believe is aimed at gaining support for comprehensive immigration reform by beefing up the President’s reputation as tough on border security. Take this excerpt from President Barack Obama’s speech today in El Paso, Texas:
Now, I know that the increase in deportations has been a source of controversy. But I want to emphasize: we are not doing this haphazardly; we are focusing our limited resources on violent offenders and people convicted of crimes; not families, not folks who are just looking to scrape together an income. As a result, we increased the removal of criminals by 70 percent.
Those opposed to Secure Communities would point out that the program has also resulted in the deportation of a large number of non-criminals. In San Francisco, this issue has inspired the county Sheriff Mike Hennessey to announce that he’ll no longer comply with Secure Communities. Yesterday, I sat down with KALW’s News Director Holly Kernan to talk about the legal issues surrounding Secure Communities–and whether or not local governments can be compelled to participate in the program. Transcript after the jump.
A complaint filed yesterday by the National Immigrant Justice Center with the Department of Homeland Security alleges serious rights violations of LGBT immigrants being held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention. The complaints span several facilities, including private prisons and local jails that contract to hold those being considered for deportation. The complaints span from verbal abuse, to excessive force, to sexual assault by fellow detainees and prison officers. Some examples:
ICE’s nationwide fingerprint-sharing program is deporting large numbers of low-levels criminals and first-time offenders.
Secure Communities, the controversial program by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that automatically runs immigration checks on detainees at jails across the country, is reining in large numbers of immigrants with no prior criminal history. This is one of the main charges leveled against S-Comm by its critics: the program was originally sold as a method to catch and deport hardened criminals, but undocumented migrants who did not have criminal histories would be swept up and deported.
According to an expansive dataset on S-Comm recently released by ICE and first reported by Ryan Gabrielson of California Watch this morning, more than a quarter of all S-Comm detainees deported from California and almost one third of S-Comm deportees nationwide had no prior convictions when they were detained.
From the inception of S-Comm in October of 2008 through February 28, 2011, 2,414,079 sets of fingerprints were automatically shared through S-Comm across the United States, resulting in 43,983 detentions or holds by ICE. 17,325 of those detentions resulted from non-criminal contact with law enforcement. 29,903 people were removed from the United States or returned to their home country, including 27,047 first-time offenders. By contrast, 24,671 of those deported through S-Comm had been convicted of “level one” offenses such as murder, kidnapping or aggravated assault.
During the same time span California jurisdictions took 1,656,743 fingerprints at local jails, which were then automatically submitted to ICE, resulting in 71,918 immigration detentions. Of those detentions, 20,157 involved people with no prior criminal record (the S-Comm statistics break down the people detained by their previous criminal records, but do not indicate why those individuals were taken into custody by law enforcement). Through S-Comm, 35,643 undocumented migrants were removed from the United States or returned to their country of origin from California, including 9,957 people with no previous criminal history.